The neighborhood and creek of Educandos, located in the central region and near the port of Manaus, known as Manaus Moderna / Credit: Bruno Kelly.
This is the third story in the series "Murky Waters," which connects the health of the Amazon basin with algae blooms in the Caribbean. It was produced by InfoAmazonia with support from the Earth Journalism Network and in partnership with Earthrise Media. Reporting by Aldem Bourscheit and Steffanie Schmidt.
Jeane Moura da Silva, 34, is a member of the third generation of residents of Educandos Creek, in the south end of Manaus, the largest city in the Amazon region. She lives with her three daughters, husband and grandson in the same place where her grandmother was born and raised and where everyone in the family learned to swim.
“My grandmother tied us up [around] the middle and threw us into the river. If you started to drown, she would pull the rope. It was like that with my uncles, brothers and cousins,” she says. “I wanted to teach my 10-year-old daughter here close to home, as my grandmother taught me, but I can't.”
Jeane Mourao da Silva pictured at home with her daughter, Mikaela. They live in the neighborhood of Educandos in the central region near the port of Manaus. Most of the houses in this community are on stilts and sit on the creek that bears the name of the neighborhood / Credit: Bruno Kelly
Educandos Creek is a tributary of the Negro River that together with the Solimões River forms the mighty Amazon in Brazilian territory. The Negro basin is one of the largest in the whole Amazon region, and it drains an area as big as France. According to the Amazon Waters Initiative, the Negro River “is the only large blackwater river in the Amazon Basin, accounting for approximately 13–14 percent of the total annual discharge of the Amazon River.”
The river’s black waters indicate a low level of sediment, and for most of its journey, the river runs clean. It is host of some of the most biodiverse fauna and flora in the entire region.
Educandos Creek (pictured above) is a tributary of the Negro River / Credit: Bruno Kelly
In the first decades of the 20th century, the Educandos was a healthy river too, surrounded by trees such as araçá (Eugenia stipitate) and tucumã (Astrocaryum aculeatum), as researcher Helen de Sousa Oliveira recorded in her 2007 master’s thesis at the Federal University of Amazonas. Between the 1960s and the 1970s, bathing spots spread across Manaus, drawing multiple social classes.
But the establishment of the Manaus Free Trade Zone in the late 1960s accelerated uncontrolled urban development and attracted a population that today totals 2.2 million inhabitants, the largest in the Amazon Region of Brazil.
Now Jeane lives in the Beco da Bomba, where a maze of bridges connects houses balancing on stilts to escape the seasonal floods. In this lower section of Educandos Creek, large quantities of garbage accumulate, either discarded here or washed downstream by the rains of the Amazonian winter, from December to May.
Da Silva pictured in her home with her daughter, Kailane and her grandson / Credit: Bruno Kelly
In Brazil’s Amazon Region, river dwellers, fishermen, and the largest indigenous population in the country depend on clean rivers for food, drink and transportation. Immense springs generating colossal amounts of freshwater give the impression that sewage, garbage and other pollutants do not cause problems because they’re only temporary and are quickly washed away. But the reality is different, says researcher Salete Almeida da Silva, from Fundação Oswaldo Cruz (Fiocruz), a public health research institution.
“The population is vulnerable. Studies point out that poor basic sanitation can bring back cholera, which had an outbreak in the 1990s. We continuously warn that the water is polluted and unfit for consumption, but nothing happens, nothing changes,” she explains.